Saturday, February 05, 2005

An Alien Threat

Those of you who are sufficiently long in the tooth may remember Ronald Reagan's frequent remarks on extraterrestrials, as thus:

"[I]n our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think, how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.
Isn't it pretty to think so? Obviously, the "universal threat" of the H5N1 virus is far too mundane to make the world's nation's act sensibly, let alone to unite them.

Dr. Henry Niman at Recombinomics reports that governments are underreporting H5N1 fatalities:
:The active exclusion of these obvious cases diminishes the utility of the fatality tallies and now the deficient database is being used to make comments and comparisons that are simply not supported by the facts. The faulty database covers up the clear deficiencies in the monitoring of the disease and the artificially low numbers are faithfully cited in media reports on a daily basis.
It's hard not to be reminded of the Chinese government's attempt to cover up SARS cases a couple of years back, or San Francisco's attempt to cover up the presence of bubonic plague in the early 1900s. It never works, but that doesn't seem to stop people from trying.

Whether this underreporting is purposeful, or simply a matter of incompetence, it's totally unacceptable. Granted, countries like Vietnam and Laos lack money and equipment to do proper epidemiological work. But that's as much our fault as theirs; these countries constitute the rest of the world's first line of defense against H5N1. Vietnam has asked the West for help, and its plea has been rather stingily answered:
The European Commission in Vietnam says it will provide $782,100 to buy laboratory equipment and emergency preparedness kits for patient care and to assist health care workers.
That's an astonishingly small amount of money, I'd say.

Here in the United States:
President Bush's budget for 2006 cuts spending for a wide range of public health programs, including several to protect the nation against bioterrorist attacks and to respond to medical emergencies, budget documents show.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, geese are falling out of the sky. All in all, it's the perfect time to cut public-health funding.


Wayne Hughes said...

H5N1 is scary, and I'm very puzzled at the actions and misinformation being given out by WHO. I've also been watching the Agonist message boards, that Niman cross-posts to. The trouble there is that there are some cases verging on nut.

BTW, ordered some heirloom potatoes!

Revere said...

An aspect of bird flu we had not appreciated was brought to our attention by a reader, the anthropologist Ronald Nigh, who does research on the effects of agribusiness on the health and welfare of rural peoples. This is large confinement agriculture in Vietnam and Thailand, which is potentially an extremely important part of the story and deserves to be part of the debate. We have posted Dr. Nigh's perspectives on this issue twice, here and here, with two more posts to follow in coming days.

This was just not on our radar screen before and we are grateful to Dr. Nigh who alerted us to it. His pieces were done especially for Effect Measure, but we hope they will be picked up by others and disseminated more widely.

Anonymous said...

Check this article out. What are the chances that this really is H5N1, and if not, then this is a very likely mutating ground zero for the swap of genetic material necessary for the final phase 6 to occur.
Pls. respond with comment---------

1 000 kids hospitalised for flu
29/06/2005 15:57 - (SA)

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's hospitals have been swamped by about 1 000 young children suffering acute respiratory infections this month, a senior health official said on Wednesday.

At least 60 infants aged two months to five years have been admitted daily, but said no fatalities have been reported, health ministry secretary of state Heng Tay Kry told AFP.

"About 1 000 infant patients have been hospitalised in four big hospitals in recent days with acute respiratory infections," he said, adding that the children were suffering from a human form of influenza.

"It has been an unprecedented and strange year (for infections), but it is not critical like bird flu. No one has died yet," he said.

The deadly avian influenza, or H5N1, has been responsible for four Cambodian deaths and dozens more in neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand.

Heng Tay Kry said the infants were admitted with coughs, high temperatures and breathing difficulties requiring oxygen to be administered.

Phnom Penh's 200-bed Kuntha Bopha hospital, a privately-run facility where treatment is given to patients for free, has received more than 500 patients.

Many others were admitted to clinics in the capital and more than 100 had been admitted in Siem Reap, gateway to the Angkor temple complex, he added.

Cambodia's antiquated health system struggles to cope even with a normal load and would be ill-equipped to deal with any health crisis.

flanok said...
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